MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition / BALAKIREV: Islamey
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Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition
Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837 - 1910)
Islamey, oriental fantasy (second version)
Hopak (from Sorochintsy Fair)
On the Southern Shore of the Crimea
The later nineteenth century was the great ageof nationalism in Russia, a period in which the Russian language became a fitvehicle for the work of great novelists and poets and in which music soughtdevelopment through recourse to Russian traditions, sacred and secular. Therewas a curious ambivalence, apparent in music as elsewhere in the cultural andpolitical life of the country. On the one hand Western Europe seemed to offer amodel to follow, the course embraced by Anton Rubinstein and composers of amore cosmopolitan turn of mind; on the other hand Russia was seen as thesaviour of Europe, with a messianic role opposed to the decadent West.
The Five, the group of Russian nationalistcomposers under the leadership of Balakirev, nick-named by the polymathlibrarian Stasov "the Mighty Handful", involved themselves in thecreation of a truly Russian form of music. Balakirev himself deplored thefoundation of what he saw as German-style conservatories, established in StPetersburg and Moscow in the 1860s by the Rubinsteln brothers, but it wasdifficult to defend his followers against a charge of amateurism ordilettantism. Balaklrev himself had professional training and worked as amusician, apart from a brief interruption of his career, when religiousmelancholia induced him to work for the state railways. Rimsky-Korsakov, whowas to acquire considerable technical skill, particularly in orchestration, wasat first a naval officer; Cesar Cui was a professor of military fortification;Borodin was a research chemist and Mussorgsky, when he left the army, became amonstrously incompetent and unreliable civil servant.
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born in 1839,the son of a land-owner. As a young officer he had musical ambitions, andwithout any training in composition tried his hand at an opera, as well aslesser compositions for the entertainment of his friends. It was a meeting withCui and with the composer Dargomizhsky that led him to a more influentialassociation with Balakirev and Stasov
After leaving the army, Mussorgsky held variouspositions in the civil service. At his death in 1881, the result of epilepsyinduced by alcoholism, he left a great deal unfinished, including the operaKhovanshchina, later completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, who took it upon himself toserve as musical executor to both Mussorgsky and Borodin. His great Russianopera Boris Godunov was to be revised by Rimsky-Korsakov, who applied histechnical abilities to smoothing out apparent crudities In other works.
Pictures at an Exhibition,a set of piano pieces written in 1874, is intensely original in its use oftexture, and has lent itself well enough to re-arrangement for all the colourof a full orchestra. The work commemorates an exhibition of the work of theartist Victor Hartmann, who had died a year before, the exhibits linked by a Promenade,with which the work opens. The first picture is a design for nut-crackers inthe shape of a gnome, and the second of an old castle, before the gates ofwhich a troubadour sings. The visitor moves on to a picture of the TuileriesGardens, where children quarrel and play and nursemaids gossip, and this isfollowed by a picture of a Polish peasant ox-cart, its heavy wooden wheelsslowly turning.
The Promenade leads now to a costumesketch for children, chickens in their shells, with arms and legs protruding,and to a picture of two Jews, one rich and one poor, a present from Hartmann tothe composer, who invented his own names for the two represented. In the marketat Limoges old women gossip, discussing the fate of an escaped cow and moretrivial nonsense, as Mussorgsky suggested.
The Catacombs, subtitled SepulchrumRomanum, are lit by a flickering lamp. The skulls stacked on each sidebegin to glow, lit from within, as the music sets out to suggest the eeriescene, with the dead, in the language of the dead. The macabre continues in theclock in the form of a hut on fowl's legs, the hut of the Russian witch BabaYaga, who crunches the bones of her victims and flies through the night on apestle.
The triumphant conclusion shows a design for theGreat Gate at Kiev, a monument to commemorate the escape of Tsar Alexander IIfrom the hands of assassins in 1866. The music contrasts the solemnity of aliturgical procession with the massive domes and columns of the projected gateway.
At his death in 1881 Mussorgsky left muchunfinished. When he had been compelled to give up his government position in1880, his supporters had offered the sum of 80 rubles if he would complete theopera Sorochintsy Fair within the year. At the same time he responded inpart to their request for piano arrangements of items from the score, of whichthe famous Hopak is probably the best known. Fragments of the opera werepublished piecemeal in the early years of the century, and various attemptswere made to provide, from other sources, a complete version for the stage.
On the Southern Shore of the Crimea
belongs, in inspiration, to the autumn of 1879, during which Mussorgsky wasgranted leave of absence to undertake a concert tour of the Ukraine and Crimeawith the singer Darya Leonova. He included in his part of the programme a grandmusical picture, Storm on the Black Sea, now lost, and the two slightersketches, dedicated to Leonova, are part of the same repertoire. Une larme
belongs to the same period of the composer's life and was written in 1880.
Balakirev wrote his oriental fantasy Islamey
in 1869 and dedicated it to Nikolay Rubinstein, director of the MoscowConservatory, who gave the first performance to a mixed reception. EvenBorodin, a firm friend of the composer, was unable to praise music that hefound confused and long. The technical demands made by the work, however, werea principal factor in ensuring a certain popularity among virtuoso performers,and Rubinstein and Liszt were to include it in their concert repertoire.
Islamey is based on threethemes, the first, Islamey, and the second both noted by Balakirevduring a visit to the Caucasus in 1860, and the third taken from an Armeniansong that the composer had heard at Tchaikovsky's house.
In 1902 he prepared a revised edition, includinga new passage linking the exciting opening section to the more lyrical Armenianmiddle section, and making some changes to the conclusion of a work that haslong proved the best known of everything Balakirev wrote.
Jeno Jando was born at Pecs, in south Hungary,in 1952. He started to learn the piano when he was seven and later studied atthe Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music under Katalin Nemes and Pal Kadosa, becomingassistant to the latter on his graduation in 1974. Jando has won a number ofpiano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at theSydney International Piano Competition in 1977. In addition to his manyappearances in Hungary, he has played widely abroad in Eastern and WesternEurope, in Canada and in Japan.
He is currently engaged in a project to recordall of Beethoven's piano solo works for Naxos. Other r